“Form is the Shape of the Content” — Ben Shahn

“The Shape of Content”(Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1956-57) by artist Ben Shahn was an important book in my life — if only because I took away just one little piece of wisdom, the answer to the question, What is form?  The form of something is, to put it simply, the shape of its content.  And the example I recall is … a tree … an individual tree … different from any other tree, taking the form of its own special, inner content … and what I took away was to not worry about the outer form of what I am writing, but, instead, to let the subject matter — the content — take its unique shape and become whatever it wants and demands to become.

So I have decided to get another copy of the book and will report back from its pages.  Meanwhile, one of the customers who reviewed it on Amazon has generously given us this excerpt … some of Shahn’s advice to artists on their education:ben-shahn

“Attend a university if you possibly can. There is no content of knowledge that is not pertinent to the work you will want to do. But before you attend a university work at something for a while. Do anything. Get a job in a potato field; or work as a grease-monkey in an auto repair shop. But if you do work in a field do not fail to observe the look and the feel of earth and of all things that you handle — yes, even potatoes! Or, in the auto shop, the smell of oil and grease and burning rubber. Paint of course, but if you have to lay aside painting for a time, continue to draw. Listen well to all conversations and be instructed by them and take all seriousness seriously. Never look down upon anything or anyone as not worthy of notice. In college or out of college, read. And form opinions! Read Sophocles and Euripides and Dante and Proust. Read everything that you can find about art except the reviews. Read the Bible; read Hume; read Pogo. Read all kinds of poetry and know many poets and many artists. Go to an art school, or two, or three, or take art courses at night if necessary. And paint and paint and draw and draw. Know all that you can, both curricular and non-curricular — mathematics and physics and economics, logic and particularly history. Know at least two languages besides your own, but anyway, know French. Look at pictures and more pictures. Look at every kind of visual symbol, every kind of emblem; do not spurn signboards of furniture drawings of this style of art or that style of art. Do not be afraid to like paintings honestly or to dislike them honestly, but if you do dislike them retain an open mind. Do not dismiss any school of art, not the Pre-Raphaelites nor the Hudson River School nor the German Genre painters. Talk and talk and sit at cafés, and listen to everything, to Brahms, to Brubeck, to the Italian hour on the radio. Listen to preachers in small town churches and in big city churches. Listen to politicians in New England town meetings and to rabble-rousers in Alabama. Even draw them. And remember that you are trying to learn to think what you want to think, that you are trying to co-ordinate mind and hand and eye. Go to all sorts of museums and galleries and to the studios of artists. Go to Paris and Madrid and Rome and Ravenna and Padua. Stand alone in Sainte Chapelle, in the Sistine Chapel, in the Church of the Carmine in Florence. Draw and draw and paint and learn to work in many media; try lithography and aquatint and silk-screen. Know all that you can about art, and by all means have opinions. Never be afraid to become embroiled in art or life or politics; never be afraid to learn to draw or paint better than you already do; and never be afraid to undertake any kind of art at all, however exalted or however common, but do it with distinction.”

#YayHamlet — Shakespeare Stands in the Wings for “Hamilton” on Broadway

By now the story of the hashtag #YayHamlet for Tweets about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s game-changing Broadway musical depicting the life of Alexander Hamilton is well known, but it bears repeating here. In February last year, when Hamilton was still playing its sold-out engagement at the Public Theater downtown, a woman driving on 181st Street stopped and rolled down her window and yelled to Miranda, “Congratulations on Hamlet!” “I WISH I wrote Hamlet,” he replied, and she shouted back, “Yay, Hamlet!” before driving off; and so the hashtag was born.

playbill hamilton

Hamilton is “Shakespearean” in many ways.  Like the great playwright of the Elizabethan age, Miranda looked to history – in this case, American history – as the basis of a great dramatic story for the contemporary audience. Just as Shakespeare transformed England’s royal history into a mirror of his nation’s current challenges, Miranda drew upon U.S. political history to depict its present struggles and still-emerging identity.

What the audience sees and hears on stage is not only a depiction of the country’s ongoing divisions, but, also, living proof of its continuing-though-uneven and often-volatile progress in social, political, cultural and artistic diversity.  For just a few hours in the theater, we are invited to join the terrific multi-ethnic cast and to share in and celebrate this joyous triumph of the democratic experiment.

Combing sharp intelligence with personal talent, education and experience, Miranda forged his work of genius with words – with linguistic patterns, rhythms and rhetorical devices, according to the distinct personalities of the characters – and he linked this emerging language to current music and dance, to the hip-hop cadences of speech and movement, and more.  Just as the Bard raised sixteenth-century English drama to new levels, Miranda and his fellow artists have offered a new vision of creative possibilities for this millennium. Here is surely the beginning of yet another renaissance of the American theater.

One rhetorical device in Hamilton is “anaphora” — basically the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of two or more successive lines, as Shakespeare provides for the king in Richard II:

With mine own tears I wash away my balm,

With mine own hands I give away my crown,

With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,

With mine own breath release all duteous oaths (4.1)

And so, for example, Hamilton’s sister-in-law Angelica sings:

I remember that night, I just might regret that night for the rest of my days.

I remember those soldier boys tripping over themselves to win our praise.

I remember that dreamlike candlelight like a dream that you can’t quite place. (1.4)

A direct nod to Shakespeare’s Macbeth comes from Hamilton as he begins a letter to Angelica with the first two lines of the title character’s most famous soliloquy:

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day”

And he continues:

I trust you’ll understand the reference to

Another Scottish tragedy without my having

To name the play. 

They think me Macbeth, and ambition is my folly. (2.3)

The full soliloquy, never spoken, is relevant:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing. (5.5)

Macbeth’s image of a man’s life as a “tale told by an idiot” will be a powerful theme in the final scenes of Hamilton – the fear that one’s own “story” will make no sense to posterity — and, in any case, that it will never be told correctly.  So Aaron Burr knows he will never be understood, much less forgiven, for killing Hamilton in a duel:

History obliterates. 

In every picture it paints,

It paints me with all my mistakes…

I survived, but I paid for it.

Now I’m the villain in your history.” (2.22)

Then George Washington picks up this theme, lamenting that there is no controlling over “who tells your story.”  The question is repeated, over and over: “Who tells your story?”

“Legacy,” Hamilton cries as he faces death.  “What is a legacy?  It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see…”

“And when you’re gone,” Burr agrees, “who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame?”

Such is also Hamlet’s concern as he, too, faces death as the result of a duel.  “Had I but time,” the prince says, referring to his need to tell what happened; but time has run out, so he turns to his trusted friend and pleads with him:

Horatio, I am dead:

Thou livest; report me and my cause aright

To the unsatisfied…

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,

Things standing thus unknown shall I leave behind me! 

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity awhile

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

To tell my story. (5.2)

Horatio promises to “speak to the yet unknowing world” how all these events (that we have just witnessed) came about. He knows that while most of the prince’s contemporaries think he was “mad” or insane, that “story” is far from accurate.  So it’s up to him to tell it or the truth will be lost.  As George Orwell will write in 1944 during World War Two, “History is written by the winners.”

Hamilton, too, suffers from a lack of understanding by others; and as a kind of Horatio figure in this innovative musical, his widow Eliza will spend the rest of her own life piecing together her late husband’s history.  But the enemy, as in the case of Hamlet’s story, is time; will she have enough time to set down the truth?

So the Twitter hashtag #YayHamlet is fitting for more than one reason.  Hamilton echoes the Bard’s great tragedy of the Prince of Denmark in unmistakable ways – as if Shakespeare himself is standing ghost-like in the wings, tapping his feet and whispering his encouragement and wondering, too, along with the other historical figures on stage, whether his own true story will ever be told and who will do the telling.

Building an Elizabethan Stage in the New York-New Jersey Area at Rockland Community College — Please Donate What You Can!



Rockland Community College needs your help. Please partner with us and contribute to a needed multi-purpose new Outdoor Performance Space!

Our campus needs a major uplift and the necessary demolition of a decaying amphitheater behind the Cultural Arts Center will offer the perfect place to construct a beautiful Outdoor Performance Space and peace garden for all to enjoy.
Performing Arts is a popular program at RCC and provides so many opportunities for talented, hopeful, and enthusiastic young people. Help us overcome any barriers to their success. Help us provide the venue to join together and celebrate the arts and the rich diversity of our community.


Every penny you donate is QUADRUPLED! For every dollar you give, Rockland Community College will get $4. Every dollar will be matched by our three generous benefactors, to help us reach our goal of $400,000.
Remember: The campaign is ALL OR NOTHING – we must raise the full amount within 24 hours, or all donations will be returned.

$500 grows into $2000!
$250 grows into $1000!
$25 grows into $100!

Your support will allow us to create something beautiful – an outdoor performance venue for our students and the community!


Spread the word!


Part Three of Reason 91 Why Edward de Vere was Shakespeare: The Stubborn Bear of Authority in “The Winter’s Tale”

When twenty-six-year-old Edward de Vere returned to England from his Continental journey in April 1576, he angrily separated from his wife Anne Cecil, believing she had been unfaithful to him. Less than a year before, while he was in Italy, the young Countess of Oxford had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, but the earl refused to acknowledge his paternity and remained apart from both his wife and the child for the ensuing five years.

During this separation, Catherine (Kate) Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk wrote in December 1577 to Oxford’s father-in-law William Cecil, Lord Burghley, about a scheme she had hatched with the earl’s sister, Mary Vere, who was engaged to her son Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby. The plan was to trick Oxford into finally laying eyes on his little daughter. Reporting on their conversation, the Duchess wrote to Cecil that Mary told her Oxford “would very fain (gladly) see the child [but] is loath to send for her.”

Kate Willoughby Duchess of Suffolk  1519 - 1580

Kate Willoughby
Duchess of Suffolk
1519 – 1580

“Then,” the Duchess told Mary, “you will keep my counsel [and] we will have some sport with him. I will see if I can get the child hither to me, when you shall come hither, and whilst my Lord your brother is with you I will bring in the child as though it were some other of my friends’, and we shall see how Nature will work in him to like it, and tell him it is his own after.’”

There’s no record of whether Catherine’s scheme was put into effect, but The Winter’s Tale contains a scene that’s a veritable carbon copy of this otherwise private episode. The plot centers on the extreme jealousy of Leontes, King of Sicilia, who is convinced that Queen Hermione has been unfaithful to him, and he has her arrested. While in prison she gives birth to a daughter, but Leontes refuses to accept paternity, believing the father to be his friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia.

Enter the Lady Paulina, who, in reflection of what the Duchess of Suffolk did, schemes to bring the infant girl to the King in the belief that the sight of the innocent babe will bring him to his senses. At the prison she addresses Emilia, attending Queen Hermione:

Pray you, Emilia,
Commend my best obedience to the Queen:
If she dares trust me with her little babe,
I’ll show it to the King, and undertake to be
Her advocate to the loudest. We do not know
How he may soften at the sight of the child:
The silence often of pure innocence
Persuades, when speaking fails.

Execution of Mary Stuart Queen of Scots  February 8, 1587

Execution of Mary Stuart
Queen of Scots
February 8, 1587

When Edward de Vere is viewed as the author, there can be little doubt that he was castigating himself for having accused his own wife of infidelity – portraying, through Leontes, his own irrational jealousy and hurtful behavior. Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn express their belief in This Star of England (1952), however, that Oxford began to write The Winter’s Tale during or after the trial of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots in October 1586, when he sat at the head of the tribunal that found her guilty of treason and sentenced her to death. They feel this event profoundly affected him, not only “exciting his compassion but also tormenting his conscience” over having to cast his vote along with the others – regardless of whether or not he thought she was guilty.

Oxford had fought to save his cousin Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who was convicted in January 1572 of participating with Philip II of Spain (in the Ridolfi plot) to put Mary on the throne in place of Elizabeth and restore Catholicism in England. The execution of Norfolk on June 2, 1572 at Tower Hill represented Burghley’s triumph over the old feudal nobility as well as his tightening hold over the Queen. Now some fourteen years later Oxford was forced to join the peers in once again carrying out Cecil’s designs, this time sealing the destruction of Mary Stuart.

“In the performance of his duty – his prime duty to his sovereign, to which honor and the oath of allegiance compelled him – he had been obliged to violate the dictates of his heart, as well as a still deeper code of humanity and of manhood,” the Ogburns write, “whereupon he turned upon himself in a savage mood and created the preposterous Leontes in what he conceived to be his own image. For Leontes, while also a symbol of entrenched if not tyrannical power, is of course largely Oxford again, but Oxford in a moment of revulsion, scorning himself for his own iniquities.”

As the Ogburns see it, Oxford was “willing to pillory himself” and have it seem he was simply portraying his own former jealousy and personal tyranny, when in fact Leontes also represents English authority in the person of Burghley and the English peers (including himself) who participated in the legalistic formality of a unanimous verdict that was a foregone conclusion. So in the play Leontes accuses Hermoine not only of adultery but also of conspiring with Polixenes to murder him – reflecting the accusation by Elizabeth (and Burghley) that Mary Stuart was plotting to kill her.

Leontes declares his own baby girl a bastard and orders Paulina’s husband Antigonous to take the child “to some remote and desert place” and leave it there at the mercy of the elements. After Hermione is presumed dead, Antigonous names his tiny charge Perdita and abandons her on the stormy coast of Bohemia with his own “character” or written account of what happened. In other words, Antigonous is a writer who has set down the truth and left it for posterity; but in the next moment he sees some hideous beast coming toward him and yells to himself that he must get back to the ship.

exit pursued by a bear

“This is the chase! I am gone for ever!” he cries, running off, and the playwright adds his famous stage direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

A Shepherd arrives, then a Clown, who tells him how the bear caught up to the man and “tore out his shoulder-bone.” The man “cried to me for help and said his name was Antigonous, a nobleman.” So this truth-telling nobleman-writer has been torn apart by the bear. He “roared and the bear mocked him,” the Clown says, adding the beast has “half dined” on him and is still “at it now.” Later the Clown reveals that “authority be a stubborn bear” – that is, the bear is allegorically the figure of authority or officialdom, which has silenced the nobleman-writer.

Edward de Vere can be seen now as depicting himself briefly as the truth-telling nobleman who refers to himself in Antigonous’s exit line: “I am gone for ever!” – the way Oxford alluded to his own name, E. Ver, in earlier verses with lines such as, “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?” and the echo’s response: “Vere.”

Why write I still all one, ever the same…
That every word doth almost tell my name? – Sonnet 76

If Oxford uses Antigonous here to stand for himself, the nobleman-author, might it be that the baby Perdita in this scene represents the earl’s plays? Has “authority” directed Oxford to abandon any claim to his writings? “Weep I cannot, but my heart bleeds,” Antigonous cries as he sets down “this poor wretch” in the wilderness, adding that “most accursed am I to be by oath enjoined to this.”

Has officialdom or the stubborn bear of authority, in the form of Queen Elizabeth and Lord Burghley, imposed an oath of secrecy upon Oxford?

If so, he would have taken such an oath when, on June 25, 1586, four months before Mary Stuart’s treason trial, Elizabeth had signed a Privy Seal Warrant for a grant to Oxford of one thousand pounds, an extraordinary sum to be paid to him annually by the Exchequer. [My own belief is that Oxford had been selling his land and spending his own money on his play companies and to support the writers under his patronage, so that now he was being repaid.] The warrant gave no hint of the reason for the grant and expressly stated, in the Queen’s own words, that the earl was exempt from accounting for its expenditure.

But in return, was Oxford now being mauled and slowly devoured by authority, the stubborn bear?

And art made tongue-tied by authority – Sonnet 66

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed by beheading on February 8, 1587.

Oxford had returned to Anne by Christmas, 1581; she died on June 8, 1588, having given birth to three surviving children, all daughters.

The Spanish armada arrived later in the summer of 1588, but failed to land on English soil much less to conquer England.

In the next five years most of the writers under Oxford’s patronage would be gone — Lyly out of a job; Kyd dying after being tortured on the rack; Marlowe killed; Greene dying; Watson dying; Lodge leaving England, and so on.

By 1590 Oxford had retired from the royal court, becoming a virtual recluse; he remarried by early 1592 and his second wife, the Maid of Honor Elizabeth Trentham, gave birth to a son in Feburary 1593, naming him Henry de Vere, the future eighteenth Earl of Oxford – the first Henry of the more than 500-year-old Vere lineage.

“Shakespeare” abruptly appeared in print for the first time later in 1593, on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothseley, third Earl of Southampton.

On May 22, 1594, Edward White registered a play entitled A Winter’s Night Pastime for publication, which the editor Edmund Malone understood to be The Winter’s Tale . In November of 1611 came a notation in the Revels Accounts of a performance of The Winter Night’s Tale at the James court. Clearly the earliest version of The Winter’s Tale as by “Shakespeare,” first printed in the Folio of 1623, had been written much earlier.

Review of “A Poet’s Rage” by Ricardo Mena

A Poet's Rage - 2Below is a blog about A Poet’s Rage from Ricardo Mena, whose forthcoming Ver, begin is a stunning masterwork. Thanks to Ricardo for these kind words. My New England heritage warns me to avoid sharing such compliments, but my Irish and French blood demands that I go right ahead; so here you go:

“Today arrived a book that is full of energy and courage. It is a book for daredevils and freelances.

“This book that arrived today is a synthesis of the Prince Tudor Theory I generally, and a vindication, defence and praise of The Monument theory discovered and explained by the eminent freelance Hank Whittemore particularly. Notwithstanding Whittemore’s great chapters on the Rival Poet of the Sonnets and Southampton’s verse-letter, which I already knew about and have read, I enjoyed the reading of Chapter 7, “Unveiling the Sonnets,” written by William Boyle. He shows us that his mind is a scientific mind in love with knowing and understanding things, something that is contrary to the esotericism and mysticism of Stratfordians:

There we have the sonnet dilemma in a nutshell: “Such knowledge is irrecoverable.” But what if such knowledge were not irrecoverable? What if there were a correct answer to the entire Sonnet Mystery, and all that one needed to achieve it were the proper set of interpretative tools?

“As Hank Whittemore remarks again and again, the key to the Elizabethan and Shakespearean mystery is not mysticism and darkness, but politics. I agree as well with Charles Beauclerk and William and Charles Boyle when they say, in Chapter 2, that the kernel of the problem is not Edward de Vere’s royal identity, as well as his son Southampton, but the Virgin Queen’s icon, that idol of the market Bacon warned us about. As they write insightfully, “for some Oxfordians questioning the Virgin Queen’s virginity is ‘an icon too far.’” Take a look at these words by William Boyle:

Fortunately, Hank Whittemore’s Monument Theory now has provided the context that completes the unveiling, exposing, in unprecedented detail, the connection between the verses and their historical context, thus resolving the mystery and “solving” the sonnets … The Monument Theory provides, for the first time, a unified theory of how the Shakespeare authorship came into existence, and in so doing provides answers to two outstanding unanswered questions from the history of the Essex Rebellion: why Southampton was spared execution, and why Shakespeare was spared punishment for his supporting role in those events. The simple answer to both these questions—an answer that only Oxfordians can provide—is that the true Shakespeare (Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford) was punished—virtually erased from history—and it was his punishment, his sacrifice, that saved Southampton. “Shakespeare” died so that Southampton could live.

Such a simple and elegant solution to the authorship problem is just what Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called for over twenty years ago … In his closing statement, Justice Stevens declared that while he suspected a conspiracy involving the Queen and Burghley could be behind this incredible story, Oxfordians had yet to articulate an all-encompassing account.

“I agree as well with William Boyle that

it is time to build on what Whittemore has discovered and defined in his “monumental” study and complete our work in gaining the world’s acceptance of Edward de Vere as Shakespeare with attendant appreciation for the reasons this writer wrote that he did and allowed his name to be buried these many centuries, in expectation of a time when “eyes to be” could behold his work and “tongues to be” could salute his noble purpose.

“Some people are doing exactly this and benefiting from it. I, personally, have done just that in Ver, begin: my book could never have been written as it has been if The Monument theory and the blog of Hank Whittemore had not been around online. For those adventurers and Redcrosse knights already on their quest for truth and Vna, beware: here is the “Castle of Alma” of your Shakespearian quest. A book to acquire, meditate upon, and preserve. Many will ignore it. Many more would desire the Shakespeare Authorship Question and his Sonnets went away, but, as Lawrence M. Krauss says at the end of the documentary The Ultimate Guide to Black Holes: “It might seem easier if things like Black Holes went away, but then, where would the fun be?” Indeed, that is the reason why trying to learn by reading Stratfordian books on Shakespeare is such a boring thing.”
Amazon link below:


Did Oxford Have Sonnets Delivered to Southampton in the Tower? The Evidence is Yes — And that Southampton Used Them to Write His Poem to the Queen

Here is evidence that Edward de Vere seventeenth Earl of Oxford was able to send some of his Shakespearean sonnets into the Tower prison room of Henry Wriothesley third Earl of Southampton to help him write his poem to Queen Elizabeth, pleading to be spared from execution.  Included at the end is a modern-English text of the poem indicating key words that also appear in the Sonnets.  This paper was delivered recently to the Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference in Portland, Oregon.   

The Southampton Tower Poem

Hank Whittemore

In February or March of 1601 the Earl of Southampton wrote a poem from the Tower of London, to Queen Elizabeth, begging for her mercy.  And in this paper I would like to present strong evidence that in the Tower he received some of the private Shakespearean sonnets from Oxford that helped him in the composition of his poem to the Queen.

The Tower

The Tower

He had been imprisoned on the night of February 8, 1601 after the so-called Rebellion had failed; he and Essex stood trial eleven days later; both were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be executed.  Essex was beheaded six days later, on the morning of February twenty-fifth; and then Southampton languished in his prison room waiting to be executed.Southampton wrote his poem to Elizabeth during the next three or four weeks, until around the twentieth of March, when he was unexpectedly spared the death penalty.   His sentence was quietly commuted to perpetual imprisonment – not only quietly, but secretly, because no official record of the reprieve has ever been found.

His poem written in the Tower was discovered by Lara Crowley, assistant professor of English at Texas Tech University, and printed in the winter 2011 issue of English Literary Renaissance.  Professor Crowley found the poem in the British Library, in a collection of miscellaneous folios prepared in the 1620’s or ‘30’s.  It was preserved in the form of a scribal copy, entitled “The Earl of Southampton prisoner, and condemned, to Queen Elizabeth.”  The seventy-four lines consist of thirty-seven rhymed couplets in Iambic pentameter – same as the Shakespeare sonnets, five feet or 10 beats per line; and same as the six rhymed couplets of the envoy to the fair youth series, Sonnet 126.  It’s the only poem Southampton is known to have written.

Professor Crowley calls it a “verse letter” to the Queen – in other words, even though it’s a literary work, it is nonetheless nonfictional and functional – intended as a means of communication and persuasion.  Crowley also refers to it as a “heartfelt plea” by Henry Wriothesley for his life.  She focuses on several key issues:

Southampton's was reduced to "Mr." in the Tower and "the late" earl

Southampton was reduced to “Mr.” and “the late” earl in the Tower

One is the authenticity of the poem.  In this regard she cites certain details within the poem that would be known only to Southampton himself and just a few others – the prison doctor, the Lieutenant of the Tower and Secretary Robert Cecil.  Also favoring authenticity is that Southampton wrote several letters to the Privy Council, as well as one to Cecil – and many of the key words in the poem are also employed in these letters.

A second issue is the question whether Southampton wrote the poem all by himself or with someone’s help.  Is it even possible, Crowley wonders, that some more “practiced” poet wrote it for him?  Could such help have come from Mr. Shakespeare?  Highly improbable, given the restricted access to Southampton, but she puts forth the question and lets it float out there.

A third matter is the literary quality of the poem.  Crowley notes the work is “unpolished” – but then we might predict that from a man expecting to face the executioner’s axe at any moment.  Unpolished though it may be, she writes, “the poem proves lyrical, powerful and persuasive.”

           Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Most important to Crowley is that the poem triggers a historical question: Why was Southampton spared?  There must have been a concrete reason; but there is nothing in the record, from the government or from anywhere else, with an explanation of what happened.  The professor dismisses any idea that Cecil was moved to save Southampton out of sympathy.   At this point he had the power – apparently even over Elizabeth – to make, or not make, this decision – and if he did spare a convicted traitor, he would have demanded something that he dearly wanted in return.

Of course, what he dearly wanted now was to bring James of Scotland to the throne.  At stake was Cecil’s own position of power and even his life; and now he faced a long, uncertain time of waiting for the Queen to die, during which time he had to conduct a secret and even treasonous correspondence with James that her Majesty might discover at any moment. It would take more than two years – a time of almost unbearable tension for Robert Cecil – and the question, given these high stakes, is what he might have demanded and gotten in return for sparing Southampton’s life.

The Southampton Tower Poem was of interest to me right away, because I realized it could have some bearing upon the theory of the Shakespeare sonnets as expressed in my edition The Monument.  A central aspect of the theory is that on the night of the failed rebellion, Edward de Vere began to write a string of sonnets – a sequence that he ultimately arranged in correspondence with each day (or night, if you will) until Southampton was either executed or given a reprieve. Oxford knew that Southampton’s fate would be determined sooner than later; in fact it took approximately forty days and forty nights until the reprieve; and in my view, no matter what the precise number of days, Oxford deliberately lined up exactly forty sonnets from number 27 to number 66.

I believe he made it forty to correspond with the forty days and forty nights that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, as in the Gospel of Matthew; and part of the evidence for this conjecture is in Sonnet 76, where he points to that very section of the Gospel:

“And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights … And when the tempter came to him … he answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God’” – Matthew, 4.4

And in rather blatant correspondence, Oxford writes:

“That every word doth almost tell my name, showing their birth, and where they did proceed” – Sonnet 76

Now if those forty sonnets correspond with the forty days from the eighth of February 1601 to the nineteenth of March, we then have Southampton in the Tower during the very same time, waiting to learn his fate – and we know that in those days and nights he wrote his letters to the Council and to Cecil and, also, his poem to Elizabeth, pleading for mercy.  So if the theory of forty sonnets (27 to 66) during that time is correct, we should be able to predict that we’ll find some relationship between Oxford’s sonnets to Southampton and Southampton’s poem to the Queen.

First, a few markers:

 “When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past” – Sonnet 30

Given the premise that the sonnet is written just when Oxford is summoned to the sessions or treason trial, it would seem to be extraordinary corroboration.

Thy adverse party is thy Advocate – Sonnet 35

“Your (legal) opponent is also your (legal) defender.” – Duncan-Jones, editor

“Thy adverse party is thy advocate” would seem to describe Oxford’s role on the tribunal at the trial, having to be Southampton’s adverse party by voting to find him guilty and sentence him to death, but also promising to work behind the scenes as his advocate or legal defender.

To my knowledge, this is the only explanation of that line in terms of linking it to a specific historical and biographical event – the trial, and Oxford’s role on the tribunal – and also in terms of its accuracy and precision as a recognized legal reference.  And the line serves to suggest that Oxford had some way of helping Southampton – helping him write those letters to the Council, not only with words but with substance – and that he may have urged Southampton to plead with Elizabeth through poetry.  It would be logical to infer that in playing his role as advocate or defense counsel, Oxford either helped him write the poem, or at least suggested its themes if not its words.

Essex wrote a much longer poem to Elizabeth from the Tower, during the few days between the trial and his execution.  In that case, however, it was absolutely necessary for Cecil to destroy Essex by sending him to his death; therefore I would think it fairly certain that he made sure Elizabeth never did see the Essex poem.  In Oxford’s case, however, the proposition here is that he made a deal with Cecil, which included supporting the succession of King James … not to mention severing his relationship to “Shakespeare” and any connection to Southampton.  In return Cecil would make it possible for Oxford to help Southampton gain a reprieve.   And given the likelihood that Oxford advised Southampton to write a poem to her Majesty, the question is how he might have helped him — which brings us to another marker, this one in Sonnet 45, when Oxford refers to:

Those swift messengers returned from thee,

Who even but now come back again assured

Of thy fair health, recounting it to me.  – Sonnet 45

There are two topics here – one, he appears to be referring to messengers on horseback riding back and forth between Oxford’s home in Hackney and the Tower – and this may well indicate that he’s been able to get copies of sonnets delivered to Southampton. This, in my view, is quite in the realm of the possible and even the probable – first because of Oxford’s high rank and seeming ability to get away with so much, apparently because the Queen protected him; second because John Peyton, Lieutenant of the Tower, had been appointed by Cecil back in 1598, and owed his allegiance to him; and third because if Oxford made a deal with Cecil, it was in the Secretary’s best interest to enable such communication between Oxford and Southampton, so Oxford could play his part by helping him.  And this would include the proposition – the hypothesis, at this point – that as part of such communication, copies of the sonnets got into Southampton’s possession in the Tower.

The other part of these two lines is the clear reference to Southampton’s health.  He had fevers and swellings in his legs and other parts of his body, but he was being treated and apparently his health was improving.  In his poem to the Queen, Southampton refers specifically to his leg problem.

I’ve left my going since my legs’ strength decayed …

And it turns out that within Southampton’s Tower poem, as predicted, there’s a strong correspondence with Oxford’s Shakespearean sonnets.

At least forty-seven key words in the Shakespearean sonnets also appear in Southampton’s poem, of which the following twenty-four words might be emphasized:

Blood, Buried, Cancel, Condemned, Crimes, Dead, Die, Faults, Grave, Grief, Ill, Liberty, Loss, Mercy, Offenses, Pardon, Power, Princes, Prison, Sorrow, Stain, Tears, Tombs…

There are at least four distinct themes shared by both the Sonnets and the Southampton poem.   

1.      Crime – Fault – Offence – Ill Deed

2.      Grief – Loss – Sorrow – Tears

3.      Prison – Death – Tomb – Buried

4.      Plea/Beg – Mercy – Pardon – Liberty

First, the Crime or Fault or Offence

“The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

  To him that bears the strong offence’s cross.” – Sonnet 34

“I beg liberty to cancel old offences

  Better go ten such voyages than once offend

  The majesty of a Prince, where all things end” (Southampton)

“All men make faults, and even I in this” – Sonnet 35

“Where faults weigh down the scale” – (Southampton)

 “To you it doth belong

  Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime” – Sonnet 58

“Let grace so…

  Swim above all my crimes” – (Southampton)

Second, the expressions of grief and loss and sorrow:

 “But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,

 And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem stronger” – Sonnet 28

 Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been

  On all my parts afflicted, hath been seen:

  My face which grief plowed…” (Southampton)

 “Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss” – Sonnet 34

 “And I with eating do no more engross

 Than one that plays small game after great loss” (Southampton)

And also in this category, here’s a comparison:

 “To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face” – Sonnet 34

 “And in the wrinkles of my cheeks, tears lie

 Like furrows filled with rain, and no more dry” (Southampton)

A third category is Southampton as a prisoner condemned to be executed and feeling buried alive.  And here I think is an amazing comparison — Oxford in my view pictures Southampton and his friends in prison, who are not yet executed, but existing unseen in the darkness of coming death – and he weeps while picturing Southampton himself as a living grave.

“Then can I drown an eye (un-used to flow)

  For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night

  How many a holy and obsequious tear

  Hath dear religious love stolen from mine eye…

  Thou art the grave where buried love doth live…” – Sonnets 30 & 31 

Southampton, in turn, pictures the prison itself as a grave or tomb, in which he is buried alive, and legally dead, that is, found guilty of treason and condemned to death.

“While I yet breathe, and sense and motion have

  (For this a prison differs from a grave),

  Prisons are living men’s tombs, who there go

  As one may, sith say the dead walk so.

  There I am buried quick: hence one may draw

  I am religious because dead in law.” (Southampton)

 And a fourth area of comparison involves the Queen’s singular ability to grant a pardon.

“The imprisoned absence of your liberty

  To you it doth belong

  Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime” – Sonnet 58

 “Not to live more at ease (Dear Prince) of thee

  But with new merits, I beg liberty

  If faults were not, how could great Princes then

  Approach so near God in pardoning men?” (Southampton)

We know Oxford’s concept of the monarch being able to substitute mercy for justice – as he would write to Cecil later, about King James (but really about any monarch): “Nothing adorns a king more than justice, nor in anything doth a King more resemble God than in justice, which is the head of all virtue…”  Southampton expresses the same idea by writing that “mercy” is an “antidote to justice” — mercy as a remedy to ensure the right kind of justice.

Wisdom and valor common men have known,

But only mercy is the Prince’s own.

Mercy’s an antidote to justice… (Southampton)

He associates the Queen with the miracle worker who cured Naaman’s condition, and he mentions the River Jordan, thereby linking Elizabeth with Christ, the ultimate exemplar of mercy.

Had I the leprosy of Naaman,

Your mercy hath the same effects as Jordan. (Southampton)

The vast majority of these key words, within these basic categories, fall not only within those first forty sonnets numbered 27 to 66, but, moreover, virtually all the key words from the Shakespeare sonnets used by Southampton come from the first twenty of them.  And most of those words are found within the first ten – within the sequence of Sonnets 27 to 36 – and the key words from these sonnets are also used by Southampton in his poem to the Queen:

SONNETS 27 to 36:

Sonnet 28 – SORROWS, GRIEF



Sonnet 32 – DEATH, DIED




Sonnet 36 – BLOTS (i.e., STAIN)

The proposition is that upon the night of the failed rebellion, Edward de Vere began to write and compile sonnets that would ultimately correspond with the days of waiting to see if Southampton would live or die by execution.  The further proposition is that Oxford, while trying to work a deal with Cecil to save Southampton’s life, was able to send messages – including some of these sonnets – to Southampton in the Tower.

Now, with the existence of a poem that Southampton himself wrote to the Queen, the added proposition is that he drew upon Oxford’s sonnets for words, concepts or themes as well as inspiration.  And given the preponderance of such words and themes within the forty sonnets 27 to 66, covering those forty days, the further proposition is that Southampton drew mainly from these particular sonnets, which, as a practical matter, would have been delivered to him in the Tower before any of the others. 

I suggest that what we have here amounts to very near certainty, if not absolute proof, that the real-life context of these Shakespearean sonnets is in fact the plight of Southampton in prison after the failed Essex Rebellion and his desperate need for a reprieve from the Queen; and I must add that – in this context of time and circumstance – Queen Elizabeth becomes, without question, the so-called Dark Lady of Sonnets 127 to 152, wherein we find:

“Straight in her heart did mercy come”(Sonnet 145)

Following is a modern-English version of the Southampton Tower Poem (February-March 1601).  Emphasized are key words that also appear (in one form or another) within the Shakespearean Sonnets 27 to 126.

The Earl of Southampton Prisoner, and Condemned, to Queen Elizabeth:

Not to live more at ease (Dear Prince) of thee

But with new merits, I beg liberty 

To cancel old offences; let grace so

(As oil all liquor else will overflow)

Swim above all my crimes.  In lawn, a stain

Well taken forth may be made serve again.

Perseverance in ill is all the ill.  The horses may,

That stumbled in the morn, go well all day.

If faults were not, how could great Princes then

Approach so near God, in pardoning men?

Wisdom and valor, common men have known,

But only mercy is the Prince’s own.

Mercy’s an antidote to justice, and will,

Like a true blood-stone, keep their bleeding still.

Where faults weigh down the scale, one grain of this

Will make it wise, until the beam it kiss.

Had I the leprosy of Naaman,

Your mercy hath the same effects as Jordan.

As surgeons cut and take from the sound part

That which is rotten, and beyond all art

Of healing, see (which time hath since revealed),

Limbs have been cut which might else have been healed.

While I yet breath and sense and motion have

(For this a prison differs from a grave),

Prisons are living men’s tombs, who there go

As one may, sith say the dead walk so.

There I am buried quick: hence one may draw

I am religious because dead in law.

One of the old Anchorites, by me may be expressed:

A vial hath more room laid in a chest:

Prisoners condemned, like fish within shells lie

Cleaving to walls, which when they’re opened, die:

So they, when taken forth, unless a pardon     

(As a worm takes a bullet from a gun)

Take them from thence, and so deceive the sprights

Of people, curious after rueful sights.

Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been

On all my parts afflicted, hath been seen:

My face which grief plowed, and mine eyes when they

Stand full like two nine-holes, where at boys play

And so their fires went out like Iron hot

And put into the forge, and then is not

And in the wrinkles of my cheeks, tears lie

Like furrows filled with rain, and no more dry:

Mine arms like hammers to an anvil go

Upon my breast: now lamed with beating so

Stand as clock-hammers, which strike once an hour

Without such intermission they want power.

I’ve left my going since my legs’ strength decayed

Like one, whose stock being spent give over trade.

And I with eating do no more engross

Than one that plays small game after great loss                                              

Is like to get his own: or then a pit

With shovels emptied, and hath spoons to fill it.

And so sleep visits me, when night’s half spent

As one, that means nothing but complement.

Horror and fear, like cold in ice, dwell here;

And hope (like lightning) gone ere it appear:

With less than half these miseries, a man

Might have twice shot the Straits of Magellan;

Better go ten such voyages than once offend

The Majesty of a Prince, where all things end

And begin: why whose sacred prerogative

He as he list, we as we ought live.

All mankind lives to serve a few: the throne

(To which all bow) is sewed to by each one.

Life, which I now beg, wer’t to proceed

From else whoso’er, I’d first choose to bleed

But now, the cause, why life I do implore

Is that I think you worthy to give more.

The light of your countenance, and that same

Morning of the Court favor, where at all aim,

Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,      

For my tears have already worn these stones

“A NEVER WRITER TO AN EVER READER: NEWS!” — No. 63 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

In 1603 the play Troilus and Cressida was mysteriously “blocked” from publication by James Roberts, who had issued a number of other Shakespeare quartos.   And after the publication of Hamlet in 1604, no more yet-unpublished Shakespeare plays came into print (until the First Folio in 1623 added eighteen more plays), at least not from the hands of those who possessed most of them.  It was as if the author had died.

The Historie of Troylus and Cressida finally appeared in quarto six years later, in 1609.  Midway through its printing, however, the cover page was altered; and also, the book now contained a sharp, angry warning that other yet-unpublished Shakespeare works were in danger of being suppressed by “the grand possessors” of them.  The remarkable epistle began with this heading: A NEVER WRITER TO AN EVER READER – NEWS

"Troilus and Cressida"(2nd Title Page 1609)

“Troilus and Cressida”
(2nd Title Page 1609)

"Troilus and Cressida" (first title page 1609)

“Troilus and Cressida” (first title page 1609)


In the same year Pericles was issued, again in defiance of the unnamed “grand possessors.”  Also SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS Never before Imprinted was published in 1609, only to disappear for more than a century until 1711.  Inside was a strange dedication referring to the author as:


Calling someone “ever-living” meant the person was no longer walking around on Earth.  This was 1609 and the poet of the Sonnets was “ever-living” or dead (although the Stratford man, who would get credit for the works in the future, remained alive until 1616).

You might say these uses of NEVER and EVER are, at the least, intriguing … no orthodox scholar has been able to explain them … but surely the two words were inserted consciously and deliberately:


SonnetsDedicationSonnets title page

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, had died at fifty-four on June 24, 1604.  In his body of youthful, signed poetry that he left behind, there is an “echo” poem in which the “fair young lady … clad all in color of a nun, and covered with a veil,” cries out her questions and receives answers from the echo.  She plays upon “ever” for E. Ver and as an anagram of Vere; and the Echo replies with that name (my emphases added):

Oh heavens!  Who was the first that bred in me this feverVere.

Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?  Vere.

What tyrant, Cupid, to my harm usurps thy golden quiver?  Vere.

What wight first caught this heart and can from bondage it deliver?  Vere.

So it’s beyond doubt that Edward de Vere used “ever” and variations of it in relation to his own name.  In 1575 he inscribed a Latin poem on a blank page of a Greek New Testament sent to his wife, Anne Cecil, while he was away in Europe; and in one line, translated into English, he wrote that he hoped her motto would be EVER LOVER OF THE TRUTH/VERE. 

In 1598 the satirist and playwright John Marston wrote the following lines (with my emphases added):

Fly far thy fame,

Most, most of me beloved!  whose silent name

One letter bounds.  Thy TRUE judicial style

I EVER honour; and if my love beguile

Not much my hopes, then thy unvalued worth

Shall mount fair place when Apes are turned forth.

If Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare,” it follows that his own name was “silent”; and, of course, “Edward de Vere” is bounded by one letter … E.

Also in 1598 the poet Richard Barnfield wrote a verse in which he speaks directly to “Shakespeare thou, whose honey-flowing vein (pleasing the world) thy praises doth obtaine” (again with my emphases):

Live EVER you, at least in Fame live EVER:

Well may the Body die, but Fame dies NEVER.

Clearly for certain members of society, notably writers, the issue of the great author’s actual “name” was already in play; and it appears that these folks already knew that EVER and NEVER could be used to identify him (silently) as Edward de Vere.  Wits Recreation of 1640 contained an anonymous epigram that began:

To Mr. William Shake-spear   

Shake-speare, we must be silent in thy praise…

Venus and Adonis appeared in 1593 with the name “William Shakespeare” printed for the first time (on the dedication to the Earl of Southampton); and Lucrece was published in 1594 with another dedication by Shakespeare to the young earl.  Also in that same year, the poetical work Willobie His Avisa was published.  This enigmatic work has been attributed to Edward de Vere by the highly respected Oxfordian researcher Barb Flues, through stylistic tests; and in fact it contained the first reference to “Shakespeare” other than his printed signature:

Yet Tarquyne pluckt his glistering grape,

And Shake-speare, paints poore Lucrece rape.

[I would note first the hyphenation “Shake-speare,” indicating the likelihood of a pen name.  Also I would note the mention of Shakespeare in connection with his Lucrece, which was being issued simultaneously.  Who else, at that time, would know about the second Shakespeare poem but the author himself?]

Willobie His Avisa winds up with a long poem The Praise of a Contented Mind, containing a passage about the historical Troilus and Cressida; and at the end of the poem, concluding Willobie itself, is the author’s printed signature in large italicized typeface:

Ever or Never

In Hamlet it seems we can hear the author’s own voice in many of the Prince’s speeches; and at the end of the first act are these famous lines with “ever” and “I” spoken together (with my emphases):

The time is out of joint.  O cursed spite

That EVER I was born to set it right!

In two scenes of the play the Prince uses “ever” in connection with his “name.”  Both involve Horatio, the character that Oxfordians feel is based on Edward de Vere’s cousin Horatio Vere:

Hamlet: I am glad to see you well.  Horatio – or I do forget myself!

Horatio: The same, my lord, and your poor servant EVER.

Hamlet: Sir, my good friend – I’ll change THAT NAME with you.  (1.2.168-70)

At the end of the full text of the play, printed in 1604 after Oxford’s death that year, the words “ever” and “name” again appear with Horatio involved, as the dying Hamlet tells him:

O good Horatio, what a WOUNDED NAME!

(Things standing thus unknown) shall live behind me!

If thou didst EVER hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity awhile,

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

To tell my story.  (5.2.367-71)

It’s in the Sonnets where, in my view, Oxford speaks not through a character but, rather, in his own words; and here the signature words EVER and NEVER are difficult to avoid (with my emphases):

Why write I still all one, EVER the same,

And keep invention in a noted weed,


Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?  (76)

And in Sonnet 116 the words appear to be an insistent identification; first, speaking of love:

O no, it is an EVER-fixed mark,

That looks on tempests and is NEVER shaken…

And in the concluding couplet:

If this be error and upon me proved,

I NEVER writ, nor no man EVER loved.

Once again, of course, none of this proves that Oxford was OUR EVER-LIVING POET, but it certainly adds to the evidence.  And I offer it here as No. 63 of 100 reasons to believe he was the NEVER WRITER (never acknowledged as the great author) addressing the EVER READER (those of us who have been thrilled and moved, to hilarity and tears, by his words).

TO BE CONTINUED — With a post about Oxford as “Ever or Never” in A Hundredth Sundry Flowres of 1573.

Jonson the Man … Shakespeare the Mask

Ben Jonson, the Man

The portrait of Ben Jonson reveals a flesh-and-blood man whose emotional life is palpable:

But the portrait of “Shakespeare” reveals only a mask, whose edge follows the hairline all the way down to the chin…

The true author’s eyes peer out, through the holes of the mask…

No. 50 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: He Was Court Impressario & Master Showman: The Staged Military Battle at Warwick Castle in 1572

We now reach No. 50 of 100 Reasons to believe that Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford wrote the works of “William Shakespeare.”  Half the journey is over!  Thanks to you, dear reader, for checking in and being a part of it.

Warwick Castle

This reason involves an elaborate entertainment in the form of a mock military battle in the summer of 1572 at Warwick Castle between two armies, one under Oxford’s command.

I have often thought that “Shakespeare,” if alive in our own time, would become not only a poet and playwright but also a screenwriter and director on a grand scale, similar to modern greats such as David Lean or Steven Spielberg or Francis Ford Coppola.  He would seize the chance to make the most of our advances in the technology and art of filmmaking.

When Edward de Vere emerges from the shadows of history, the curtain will rise on not only the hidden genius who adopted the pen name “Shakespeare” at age forty-three in 1593, but also on the great impresario who, unknown to the public, was the primary force behind the extraordinary pageant of entertainments for Queen Elizabeth and her royal court.

An ariel view of Warwick Castle…

Along with the outpouring of plays, performed in the relative privacy of that privileged audience, were spectacular public entertainments such as the mock battle at Warwick Castle.

Let us follow the account of a contemporary chronicler, with my occasional italicizations for emphasis:

“Be it remembered that in the year of our Lord 1572, and in the fourteenth year of our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth, the twelfth day of August in the said year, it pleased our said Sovereign Lady to visit this borough of Warwick in person…”

On summer progress with the court, she arrived in great splendor as all the chief citizens assembled on their knees outside the town to greet her.

Cover of “The Queen’s Progress: An Elizabethan Alphabet” by Celeste Davidson Mannis

“Her Majesty in her coach, accompanied with the Lady of Warwick in the same coach … the Lord Burghley, lately made Lord Treasurer of England, the Earl of Sussex, lately made Lord Chamberlain to Her Majesty, the Lord Howard of Effingham, lately made Lord Privy Seal, the Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England…”

By now Oxford was Burghley’s son-in-law.  His close friends Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex and Charles Howard, Earl of Effingham, were charged with ensuring that plays were performed at court – a duty they would carry out until Sussex’s death in 1583.

The Queen spent a week in the Warwick area and on Sunday 18 August “it pleased her to have the country people resorting to see her dance in the Court of the Castle … which thing, as it pleased well the country people, so it seemed Her Majesty was much delighted and made very merry.”

In the evening after supper came the mock battle, which, among other things, was an exercise in theatrical realism.

Elizabeth and the court first saw a fort, commanded by Fulke Greville, “made of slender timber covered with canvas.”  Inside were “divers persons to serve the soldiers; and therefore so many harnesses as might be gotten within the town … wherewith men were armed and appointed to cast out fireworks, as squibs * and balls of fire.

Fulke Greville (1554-1628)

“Against that fort was another castle-wise prepared of like strength, whereof was governor the Earl of Oxford, a lusty gentleman, with a lusty band of gentlemen.

“Between these forts, or against them, were placed certain battering pieces, to the number of twelve or fourteen, brought from London, and twelve fair chambers, or mortar pieces, brought also from the Tower … These pieces and chambers were by trains fired, and so made a great noise, as though it had been a sore assault …

Arquebus or Harquebus

The Earl of Oxford and his soldiers, to the number of two hundred, with calivers and arquebusses, ** likewise gave divers assaults; they in the fort shooting again, and casting out divers fires, terrible to those that have not been in like experiences, valiant to such as delighted therein, and indeed strange to them that understood it not.

“For the wild fire falling into the river Avon would for a time lie still, and then again rise and fly abroad, casting forth many flashes and flames, whereat the Queen’s Majesty took great pleasure…

[This seems to be as close to one of our own war movies as the 16th century could get!]

“At the last, when it was appointed that the over-throwing of the fort should be, a dragon flying, casting out huge flames and squibs, lighted up the fort, and so set fire thereon, to the subversion thereof; but whether by negligence or otherwise, it happened that a ball of fire fell on a house at the end of the bridge…

An engraving of Warwick Castle, 1729

“And no small marvel it was that so little harm was done, for the fire balls and squibs cast up did fly quite over the Castle, and into the midst of the town; falling down some on the houses, some in courts … and some in the street … Four houses in the town and suburbs were on fire at once, whereof one had a ball come through both sides, and made a hole as big as a man’s head, and did no more harm.”

A man and his wife were sleeping in the house that got hit with the fire ball, but Oxford and Greville ran over and, after some difficulty, rescued the couple.  Next morning the Queen and her courtiers gave the man more than twenty-five pounds to cover the loss of their home.

Such high drama on a grand scale is exactly what we might expect to find “Shakespeare” creating as a young man, more than two decades before his adoption of that pen name.   We might well expect to find that, in addition to becoming the greatest writer of the English language, the great poet-dramatist was also a master showman.

[The contemporary chronicle was in Black Book of Warwick, printed in Bibliotecha Topographica Britannica, vol. iv., and reprinte by B. M. Ward in his 1928 biography The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604, From Contemporary Documents.]

* Squib – a firework in the form of a tube or ball filled with powder that burns with a hissing noise until it ends with a slight explosion.

** Arquebus (Harquebus) – a simple form of musket, i.e., a small-caliber long gun operated by a matchlock or wheel-lock mechanism with a piece of burning cord igniting the priming powder in the pan, which in turn ignites the main charge in the barrel.  It dates from about 1400.

The Medical Mind and Knowledge of “Shakespeare” — Part Two of Reason 39 Why the Real Author was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Defenders of the Stratfordian faith often try to “dumb down” the Shakespeare works, to avoid having to explain how he could have acquired such amazing knowledge:  “Well, see, he really didn’t know that much.  He wrote about stuff that anyone in England could have picked up, in the tavern or on the street, and of course he made mistakes…”   Such is the typical attempt to minimize the medical knowledge that Shakespeare displays with such precise, accurate details that — even so! — numerous books have been devoted to just this single topic of mental, physical and emotional health or illness.   If something is too large to be filled by the Stratford man’s pitifully small biography, it must be cut down to fit – even while “the miracle” of his “genius” is further inflated, to explain the inexplicable.

Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577)

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford requires no such adjustments to explain the knowledge displayed by “Shakespeare” in his works.  Oxford was tutored during childhood by Sir Thomas Smith, known for his great library and his interest in diseases, alchemy and therapeutic botanicals; at twelve he became a royal ward in the custody of William Cecil (later Lord Burghley and his father-in-law), whose library held some 200 books on alchemy and medical topics; and in his twenties Oxford lived next door to Bedlam Hospital, a source of firsthand knowledge about patients suffering from mental illness.

Edward de Vere’s life forms a picture that deepens, rather than cheapens, our perceptions of what is contained within the great plays and poems.  And because of the Oxfordian authorship theory, researchers are now continually finding new evidence that “Shakespeare” was even more brilliant than we have been able to know and appreciate.

Dr. Earl Showerman

Shakespeare’s Medical Knowledge: Illuminating the Authorship Question was the title of a talk last April by Earl Showerman, M.D., during the Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference at Concordia University in Portland, OR.  His comprehensive lecture was supported by dozens of slides, with information such as that the plays contain “over 700 medical references to practically all the diseases and drugs” that were known by the year1600, along with “knowledge of anatomy, physiology, surgery, obstetrics, public health, aging, forensics, neurology and mental disorders,” not to mention “detailed knowledge of syphilis.”

Dr. Showerman, current president of the Shakespeare Fellowship, graduated from Harvard College and the University of Michigan Medical School before practicing emergency medicine in Oregon for more than three decades.  In the past several years he has carried out extraordinary research into Greek literary sources and allegorical elements in plays such as Hamlet (see essay here) and The Winter’s Tale (see essay here).  His findings have already shattered the notion that Shakespeare had “small Latin, and less Greek” – another example of how we are learning (over and over) that the “big lie” of the Stratford man as “Shakespeare” is invariably covering up much larger and more meaningful truths.

“Shakespeare and Medicine” by R.R. Simpson (1962)

Dr. Showerman quoted from Shakespeare and Medicine (1962) by R.R. Simpson, who reports that Shakespeare demonstrates “not only an astute knowledge of medical affairs, but also a keen sense of the correct use of that knowledge” – a sign that he was well-acquainted with the medical literature of his day.  Among many other works he cited The Medical Mind of Shakespeare (1986) by Aubrey Kail, who writes that the Bard’s plays “bear witness to profound knowledge of contemporary physiology and psychology” and that he “employed medical terms in a manner which would have been beyond the powers of any ordinary playwright or physician.”

“The Medical Mind of Shakespeare” by Aubrey Kail (1986)

In his lecture Dr. Showerman gave much credit to the work of another leading Oxfordian researcher, Frank M. Davis, M.D., co-founder of the Tallahassee Neurological Clinic.  In a paper on Shakespeare’s medical knowledge (and how he acquired it) published in 2000, Dr. Davis writes that during Shakespeare’s time “true medical literature, like medicine itself, was still in its infancy,” so he could not have absorbed much from reading what was available in English.  “The vast majority of medical works were published in Latin or Greek.”

Dr. Davis finds it “remarkable” that Shakespeare refers in three plays to the pia mater, the inner lining of the covering of the brain and spinal cord.

“Knowledge of this relatively obscure part of anatomy could only mean that Shakespeare had either studied anatomy or read medical literature …

“The Anatomie of the Bodie of Man” by Thomas Vicary (1490-1561)

“Even more striking to me as a neurosurgeon is his acquaintance with the relationship of the third ventricle with memory,” Dr. Davis adds, noting that a possible source was Thomas Vicary’s Anatomy of the Body of Man, published in 1548, which refers to the third ventricle as the ‘ventricle of memory’” – a phrase used in Love’s Labour’s Lost when the pedant Holfernes states that his various gifts of the mind “are begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of the pia mater…” (4.2.70-71)

William Harvey (1578-1657)

And another example – that while the discovery of the circulation of blood has been assigned to William Harvey, there are indications that “Shakespeare” was aware of it long before Harvey’s announcement of it in 1616.  There are “at least nine significant references to the circulation or flowing of blood in Shakespeare’s plays,” Dr. Davis writes.

England was far behind the advances in medical technology taking place on the Continent.  Most of the great doctors and teachers were based at the University of Padua, then the center for medical learning; others studied there before returning to their hometowns to practice medicine.

University of Padua

And the Earl of Oxford, touring the cities of Europe during 1575 at age twenty-five, definitely visited Padua – at least once, probably twice.  “With the background in pharmacology gained from his years with Sir Thomas Smith,” writes Dr. Davis, “it seems unlikely that Oxford would visit Padua without attempting to discover the latest developments in ‘physic.’”

Fabricius (1537-1619)

Only the year before had the famous Renaissance doctor Fabricius discovered “the valves in veins responsible for keeping the blood flowing in one direction toward the heart,” Dr. Davis writes, noting that he was “the first to bring this important discovery to light.”  Even if Oxford hadn’t met with Fabricius in person “it is easy to imagine” that the great teacher’s 1574 discovery of those valves, along with other topics related to the circulation of the blood, “would have been an ongoing staple of conversation among the students and faculty at the time of Oxford’s visit the following year.”

Shakespeare and Medicine by Stephanie Hughes

Shakespeare and Medicine by Michael J. Cummings

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